This post has been modified to include the precious insights of the commentators. First, I retract the ‘blame’ language that is quite useless it is true. Second, I try to focus on asking the questions we tend to think are the most relevant.
The recent wave of violence taking place in Lebanon has put into question several issues that I wish to address:
1- The legitimacy of the Lebanese army’s action
Posing the problem in the way it is posed through either nationalist from one side or leftist ‘humanist’ rhetoric from the other fails to address the problem. The Lebanese army was caught off guard whatever one may say. It would be much more judicious to wonder why the Lebanese army was put in this situation in the first place (if there is such a thing as a mover). And why, until now, no significant diplomatic moves have been recorded.
We need a much better understanding of what is going on inside the camps. How are political organizations structured? What are the various competing claims to power? What are the different security structures? And if there is a state of mild anarchy within the camps then to what extent other groups know what is going on but are keeping it to themselves? The way the PLO is behaving for example is just outrageous: It is sanctifying the Lebanese army’s deeds and hope that Fath al Islam can be wiped out the hard way. Where were they all this time? So busy brokering deals with the Americans that they forgot there are camps in Lebanon?
But above all, one needs to understand better how did Fath and even Hamas lost their grasp of political leverage inside the camps. Who are the non-Palestinian actors that played a role in this weakening if any?
Next, one needs to assess the various primary scenarios at hand: whether Fath al Islam before going wild was initially backed by the Lebanese Mustaqbal lead group (with or without US oversight), or whether Syria has supposedly sent Al Absi to play dirty tricks on the Lebanese (i.e. abiding by the “there is a Syrian behind every misdeed in Lebanon”). But in order to do so one needs to demystify Fath al Islam’s “ethos”.
2- The motives of Fath Al Islam (demystifying the ‘ethos’)
That is the trickiest question. What are Fath Al Islam trying to achieve? Are they fighting some ‘imperialist’ or ‘western’ or whatever discursively-defined enemy that poses real exploitative structures on them? Who? The Lebanese government? What was the Lebanese State doing against these people?
See, the problem with the pervasiveness of the ‘terrorist’ concept is that these dudes don’t even need to have a motive in order to create trouble, because it is thus thought under this conceptual framework that because they are ‘terrorist’ (labeled as such) there is something ‘within their being’ that is prone to violence, nothing more nothing less. It is the ideological pervasiveness in the belief of the ‘the essence behind the action’ that bluntly biases our understanding of this movement. We don’t look for motives because the motive is just their ‘being’! (i.e. being terrorist, which is an empty signifier).
So let’s look for some sense in this: We know that Al Absi before being arrested in Syria was planning to ‘liberate the Golan‘. Well ok, that may be a militant plan that I can buy. Then, what were they doing in Lebanon? Did post-Hariri (because as pointed out by Jean Aziz for example, Hariri himself was not playing the ‘Sunni fundamentalist’ card) people promised them something specific? What was their political agenda? Why acting today?
3- The impact on the Lebanese political groups
The most interesting aspect of all this is how government, the opposition and even somewhat neutral ‘bystanders’ in the presses, blogs etc. are just working the problem through the ethical dilemma they face: Should we back the Lebanese army? or should we voice our concerns against the Palestinian civilians? Should we accuse the US of fomenting trouble, and wanting to find a pretext in order to either send more aid or just build a military base?
The obvious thing is that both the ruling government and the opposition groups are trying to play on the ‘terrorist’ rhetoric the best way possible. Opposition blames the government of letting ‘extremists’ develop, so they criticize their security mess-ups. And the government is pressing on more rapprochement with the international community in order to corner Hizbullah and other ‘old-regime’ remnants.
4- And now I vent a little (a note on the side):
Today, I pity the Lebanese army that found itself engulfed in this bloody quest, that is refueling anti-Palestinian sentiments, not between the Lebanese army ranks that are mostly Shi’as and are the most pro-Palestinian constituency in Lebanon today, but between the miserable petite bourgeoisie as would call it Al Haqid that have nothing else to do than to say: “ah these Palestinians they don’t want to let the army restore order, then they just get what they deserve!”.
I pity the innocent individual soldiers in the army that are obliged to play the ‘nationalist’ game for no reasons but to kill or get killed. I pity the Palestinians who are blocked in this camp or have difficulty leaving. And I pity the Palestinians to be in a camp in the first place. So I blame Lebanese authorities to have kept Palestinians in such a marginalized state where playing with a rifle was (obviously) a more exciting prospect than sitting and praying for divine liberation. And today, I blame Palestinian groups that have no oversight on these armed men and who on top of it all are hiding behind a completely disarrayed and brainwashed Lebanese government (himself hiding behind Uncle Sam) in order to see stability restored in their shit hole.